Review scores have always troubled me. Ever since I found out how the industry uses them to judge bonuses for developers (something I knew long before that article was published thanks to friends working in the industry) the score I ended up giving the game always had a level of gravitas attached to it, even if I knew only a couple dozen people read the review. I tried to clarify my position in an attempt to give more insight into how the final score was constructed but still that nagging feeling remained. Since then I’ve had many discussions with friends about review scores in general and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re staying around but there’s a set of rules around their use.
For starters I think the biggest issue with review scores in general is when they’re used in aggregate to compare titles on the same medium (games/movies/books/etc.). The problem with this is that it ignores the unique perspective and thought process that goes into curating that score, something that’s intensely personal and becomes meaningless when stripped of its context. For instance my preference to start games out with perfect scores and then take points off is likely not the same process other reviewers go through and thus my 8.5/10 does not compare to the same score elsewhere. Indeed I try incredibly hard to lay out any personal bias on the table so that when you do see that final score you can make a decision as to how valid that is compared to your viewpoint or other reviewers you might follow.
Following on from this its logical to then assume that scores bear no correlation between different game genres. It’s impossible to compare something like MirrorMoon EP to Payday 2 using only the review score because their commonalities end almost as soon as they begin. However I feel comparing MirrorMoon EP to say Kairo quite valid as they’re quite similar in many regards and whilst their differences are nuanced if you wanted a general idea of how they compared to each other the review score is then appropriate. I’ve been told that this kind of philosophy is what drove the late and great Roger Ebert’s review scores for movies and I believe that it’s very applicable to the world of gaming.
Of course I can really only enforce these rules here where I have total control over how the content is presented but I think some generalization of these ideas applied widely would go a long way to reversing some of the damage that review scores have done to various parts of the industry. They’re still not ideal of course, nothing that boils down hours upon hours of invested time to a single digit is, but if we as consumers become more nuanced in the way we use reviews then they might start to become meaningful. This would have to go hand in hand with turning down our usage of review aggregators as they’re arguably the primary source of most of the complaints that center around review scores.
I don’t see that happening anytime soon but I can at least do my part to improve the situation.